Molybdenum ( /ˌmɒlɪbˈdiːnəm/ mol-ib-dee-nəm or /məˈlɪbdɨnəm/ mə-lib-di-nəm), is a Group 6 chemical element with the symbol Mo and atomic number 42. The name is from Neo-Latin Molybdaenum, from Ancient Greek Μόλυβδος molybdos, meaning lead, itself proposed as a loanword from Anatolian Luvian and Lydian languages, since its ores were confused with lead ores. The free element, which is a silvery metal, has the sixth-highest melting point of any element. It readily forms hard, stable carbides, and for this reason it is often used in high-strength steel alloys. Molybdenum does not occur as a free metal on Earth, but rather in various oxidation states in minerals. Industrially, molybdenum compounds are used in high-pressure and high-temperature applications, as pigments and catalysts.
Molybdenum minerals have long been known, but the element was "discovered" (in the sense of differentiating it as a new entity from the mineral salts of other metals) in 1778 by Carl Wilhelm Scheele. The metal was first isolated in 1781 by Peter Jacob Hjelm.
Most molybdenum compounds have low solubility in water, but the molybdate ion MoO42− is soluble and forms when molybdenum-containing minerals are in contact with oxygen and water.
Molybdenum-containing enzymes are used as catalysts by some bacteria to break the chemical bond in atmospheric molecular nitrogen, allowing biological nitrogen fixation. At least 50 molybdenum-containing enzymes are now known in bacteria and animals, though only the bacterial and cyanobacterial enzymes are involved in nitrogen fixation. Owing to the diverse functions of the remainder of the enzymes, molybdenum is a required element for life in higher organisms (eukaryotes), though not in all bacteria.